Healthier Barkley ready if needed
When Matt Barkley practiced with the Eagles for the first time back in May, the one thing that jumped out about the rookie quarterback was that there wasn't much jump in his passes.
Barkley never had what many scouts call a "live arm," and some of the NFL-required throws, like the 15-yard out, were a struggle for the Southern Cal product.
He separated his shoulder against UCLA last November and missed the Trojans' final two games of the season, but Barkley downplayed the effect the injury had on his March Pro Day workout and even through spring workouts after the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round.
Turns out, the shoulder was affecting him.
"It wasn't 100 percent," Barkley said last week, "I'll admit that."
Barkley and the Eagles are now saying he's had more zip on his throws, although it's difficult to say for certain since practices have been closed since the start of the season. His repetitions have been limited, too, with Michael Vick and Nick Foles still ahead on the depth chart.
But Barkley had the most work he's seen this season in the week leading up to Sunday's game against the Buccaneers. Vick was limited because of a hamstring strain and is unlikely to play, meaning Foles will start and Barkley will dress for the first time this season as the backup.
The Eagles have prepared Barkley to be ready and he has approached every game as if he's starting, something he did every time he suited up dating back to his freshman year of high school. But Barkley agreed that his shoulder had something to do with the lack of first-team snaps through training camp. The Eagles likely viewed his rookie season as a "redshirt" year.
"It was pretty clear what the situation was," Barkley said. "They have faith in Michael that he's going to do a good job. I think just the fact that they named him the starter at that point, it was an opportunity to learn from a different perspective."
Barkley admitted it was a difficult adjustment at first - going from always being No. 1 to low man on the totem pole.
"I think quarterbacks are wired that way," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "There's not five of them playing out there out of the 11 like linemen. You get used to competing. And when you're the [No.] 1 for most of your career, there's probably a little bit of an adjustment."
Despite the limited practice reps, Barkley often stayed after practice, sometimes getting LeSean McCoy or other starters to work with him. The last several weeks, he has worked with practice-squad receivers before games under the eye of quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.
"I found a rhythm," Barkley said. "I found a groove, a weekly routine to where I feel comfortable and ready for each game. Any chance I get to throw in our offense, even if it's against air, I take it as an opportunity to grow and get better."
The offense has similarities to the one Barkley ran at Southern Cal. Both schemes have package plays with run-pass options that require quick reads. But the timing of the routes are different and Barkley has had to adjust to receiving snaps in the shotgun most of the time.
"You have a certain rhythm when you drop back from the center all the time, you're doing play-action from under center," Barkley said. "Those are habits I developed over eight years."
Barkley attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and became the first quarterback to start as a freshman since another prodigy - Todd Marinovich. His coach even permitted him to call plays on offense. He suffered a broken collarbone in the playoffs, but went on to set records the next three years.
He committed to Southern Cal a year early - his father, Les, was an all-American water polo player for the Trojans - when Mark Sanchez still had another year of eligibility. But Sanchez left early for the NFL and Barkley never really entertained the idea of redshirting as a freshman.
"Coach [Pete] Carroll always had his slogan - 'Always compete,' " Barkley said. "So he threw you in with the [first-string] right away to see. I guess when I committed, Mark was there and I thought I was playing behind him and studying under him. So I guess until he left there was maybe a thought I'd redshirt. But I never really considered it."
Barkley won the job in camp and started the next four years. Some projected him as a first-round pick in the draft after his junior year. But Barkley stayed in school, separated his shoulder, and dropped down draft boards, especially after his Pro Day workout.
Chip Kelly said that the Eagles knew the shoulder wasn't completely healthy and that Barkley wasn't throwing at full strength in the spring.
"We've seen him get stronger and stronger as he's been there," Kelly said. "His arm is a lot stronger than when he first got here, but we could tell that."
Has it fully healed?
"Who knows what 100 percent is," Barkley said. "But it doesn't bother me like it did."
The test could come in Tampa.